November 26, 2019
Distillery: Woodford Reserve (Brown Forman)
Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky, USA
Composition: 72% corn, 18% rye, 10% malted barley
Price: $130 MSRP
From the Woodford Reserve website:
“Batch Proof is crafted using the same grain bill and process as Woodford Reserve Kentucky Straight Bourbon. However, Batch Proof takes Woodford Reserve’s trademark flavor range of sweet vanilla and toasted oak to a whole new level — providing consumers the privilege of tasting Woodford Reserve in its purest form (and not the standard 90.4 for which Woodford is known). First introduced in 2018, Batch Proof celebrates Woodford Reserve proprietary batching process — blending barrels and then presenting the liquid at its actual proof, which this year is 123.2.”
Woodford Reserve Batch Proof is one of a few annual limited releases under the Woodford name, including the Oat Grain Bourbon and Cherry Wood Smoked Barley to name a few. Woodford Reserve Batch Proof also just happens to be the only Woodford Reserve whiskey to come in higher than 45.2% alcohol. Just like Stagg Jr or George T Stagg, the Batch Proof is a small batch release, so the proof, scents, and flavors vary from year to year.
I personally am not a fan of the standard Woodford Reserve. I used to drink it now and then, but I eventually grew out of it when I realized that it actually wasn’t very good. In my review, I gave it a “Bottom Shelf+” rating, further reinforcing that notion. Given my sentiment towards the regular Woodford, let’s find out in this Woodford Reserve Batch Proof review if this limited version is any better.
Woodford Reserve Batch Proof starts with potent caramel, honey, and corn mash with a noticeable orange concentrate component. There’s a distinct dark and roasted note, more tobacco than oak, with a few dashes of cocoa powder as well as a lot of citrus and spiced apples. Think pleasant and fragrant baked apples sprinkled with cinnamon and nutmeg followed by fresh orange and grapefruit squeezed on top. Anise comes through as well, adding to some of the brighter notes. In a small way, it smells like Pocari Sweat, the Japanese grapefruit-like flavored sports drink. Even with the sweet and dark notes, there’s also are fun and contrasting tropical and fruity components. The alcohol is punchy as expected, but not as strong as 123.2 proof would indicate. That’s a win for me.
After strong swirling, I smell a lot of caramel and vanilla bubblegum with maple syrup and dark concentrated cherries. The sweetness is generously complemented with cinnamon and clove spices, orange, lime, and grapefruit citrus notes, similar to sticking cloves into an orange then covering it with cinnamon. The sweet citrus notes also remind me of Gran Marnier or Aperol. Not only is Woodford Reserve Batch Proof citrus and spice-forward, it’s also quite oak forward with a little soggy milk chocolate (not a bad thing). For whatever reason, this is one of the most citrus-forward noses in bourbon. Woodford Batch Proof is a very pleasant and fragrant bourbon, the opposite of Woodford Reserve.
Woodford Reserve Batch Proof, like other cask strength bourbons, is immediately powerful and intense on the first sip with caramel and vanilla nougat followed by cinnamon and clove spices, oak, and an alcohol punch. It’s initially a little overwhelming so it’s tough to process everything at first.
With “chewing”, I can settle down into the simmering alcohol fury, and taste sweet honey and citrus followed by oak, cocoa, caramel, cornbread, vanilla, and spice. It’s a viscous bourbon with a surprise citrus-forwardness that yet again reminds me of Gran Marnier or Aperol. Woodford Batch Proof starts sweet and fruity then becomes oaky and spicy with cinnamon and clove after 5 seconds of chewing through it, all with punchy alcohol following all the flavors. The alcohol somehow stays away from being overwhelming though. There are hints of anise and licorice from the rye, but it generally stays in the background.
The finish starts with caramel nougat, oak, and cocoa, sort of like a Snicker’s bar, but made with dark chocolate and with less sugar, tingling my tongue with long lasting oak. “Chewing” leaves a similar finish of sweet honey and bitter oak with a hint of mint. It slowly transforms into oaky bubblegum then sweet preserved orange peel. Woodford Reserve Batch Proof is a fantastically delicious bourbon from beginning to end.
Woodford Reserve Batch Proof is without a doubt an excellent bourbon. It makes me wonder how regular Woodford Reserve lacks all the Batch Proof’s amazing traits. The Batch Proof’s nose is full of fragrant honey and citrus notes with underlying roasted oak and tobacco, and the flavors are bold and rich with caramel, citrus fruits, wood spice, and oak. This is by far the best Brown-Forman bourbon I’ve had, exceeding the popular Old Forester 1920. My primarily qualm is with the ludicrous $130 price tag, but it seems to be the norm for increasingly pricey limited releases.
In a world with $40-50 Wild Turkey Rare Breed, $50-80 Stagg Jr (if you can find it), $50 Knob Creek Barrel Picks, $60 Old Forester 1920, and $60 Elijah Craig Barrel Proof 12 Year, Woodford Batch Proof’s pricing seems to be out of line with reality. I can confidently say that Woodford Reserve Batch Proof is not drastically better than Stagg Jr or Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, so the extra cost is not going towards making better bourbon. You certainly will greatly enjoy Woodford Batch Proof, but you can do just as well with bourbons that are half the price and easier to find. It’s obviously up to you and what your wallet can handle, but I’ll pass on this going forward.